Urban Milwaukee Published My Article Regarding Senator Bill Proxmire And Genocide

The headlines about China and genocide are more than troubling and disgusting. They also demand a response from our nation. Given the national role former Wisconsin Senate Willian Proxmire played in the passage of the Geneva Convention means we should ponder what he might argue for a response to our current situation.

I offer some thoughts,

Madison Neighborhood Idea Equally Bad In North Dakota

I have pressed the Marquette Neighborhood Association Board, during the term of former President Lynn Lee, to create a cleaner, more open, and transparent process of conducting business.  One item I often wrote about on the public listserv in the neighborhood concerned the vote tallies for the annual meeting not being made public.  I was told that no such data would be made public.  The vote totals from ballots cast by the dues-paying members would be kept secret.  Only the winners’ names would be announced.

This past week’s news about a similar desired behavior in North Dakota has created a stir for those concerned about anti-transparency outcomes.  Their state senate passed a bill (43-3) that aims to forbid election officials from disclosing how many actual votes are cast for each candidate in future presidential elections.  But, unlike the MNA Board, they would disclose them after the Electoral college had convened to select an official victor.  We can clearly see the lunacy and danger from the move in ND that was supported by all the GOP members and opposed by all the Democratic members of the chamber.

Since there is not some raucous emotional event now taking place within the MNA means it would be the right time to have the Board make the change about releasing vote totals at future general meetings when electing new board members.   Transparency is a good thing.  We also know what it looks like and the reaction we have when it is continually, and purposely, undermined.

It goes without saying that withholding vote totals, be it on the Madison isthmus or the flatlands of North Dakota, rightly raises suspicions in the minds of voters about what actually occurred in the election.

I pointed out to Lee many times, when trying to get the Board to understand the simple concept, that voters do question the accuracy of the outcomes without vote totals for the ones running for election. Having much enjoyed civics education in my youth and using it as an adult presses home the most salient argument for releasing vote totals. How can there be a public filled with confidence about an election, the handling and counting of ballots, or the listing of board winners if there are no numbers against which to verify the process?

And so it goes in the Marquette Neighborhood and North Dakota!

Samuel Li Shows Madison What We Look Like From Above

One of my favorite Twitter accounts to follow is from Samuel Li as he showcases his skills with photography and cinematography from above Madison. This month he is featured in Madison Magazine.

I so enjoy how he works with color, shadows, contrasts, and moods of the city to show us who are as a population center. When it comes to showcasing one of the young shining examples of what makes this city special the magazine found a perfect example with this young man. His fans online have known about his gift with a camera and keen eye.

I anticipate over the coming decades we will see much more of his perspective on the world. And we can all say with pride he did some amazing work while a student at UW-Madison.

Elvis Would Not Want You To Get Married In Las Vegas, During Pandmeic

In nearly thirty movies during the ‘Hollywood years’ Elvis Presley always ended the film ‘with the girl’. Some might then reason with all the plots and uneven odds he faced that the pandemic should not now slow down love, romance, and marriages. Throw in a glitzy city that reeks of up-ended marriages, along with ‘The King” being involved with the vow-making, and what do we have?

Las Vegas.

Do not get me wrong. Vegas has a lot to offer for a fast weekend and a few shows. But to get married there is just not what I sense is the start of a serious lifetime together. But if you really need to cheapen the vows by taking them in such a place, at least make it better by adding some of the King’s music. Steve Connolly, who’s donned the King’s jumpsuit for 25 years, is just the person to see if this is truly what you desire in starting a life together.

I was reading GQ this weekend and stumbled upon this way to wed during COVID in Vegas.

You can’t come into the chapel without a mask. I have to be performing while you’re six feet away. We’re conforming to that, and thankfully we haven’t had anybody come down with COVID. This year, everybody’s wearing masks in their wedding album. Most of the weddings we’re doing tend to be Southern states or states that are right next to us: Colorado, Arizona, California. And I just married a crazy, drunken group from Florida. The couple was talking about how they’ve been married before, with these huge weddings, and they got divorced and here they are.

A Vegas Elvis Impersonator on a Year of Pandemic Weddings
Courtesy of Steve Connolly

The Elvis thing started as a fluke. I was in a band in Boston. I always did a couple of Elvis songs because my mother always said, “You got to do an Elvis song.” A guy who saw that said, “You do Elvis better than anything else. Just do Elvis.” That particular guy did produce six shows for me; then he got arrested for forgery. I took on the show and went to Vegas, where I started doing weddings back in 1996.

My last nightly show was on March 14. Plenty of times I said I could quit working and just make a living doing weddings 100%. I was in a good mood. Then the next day, boom, no weddings. When the pandemic hit in March, I lost 37 weddings. The chapel stayed shut down until June 1. It was devastating for me. Without my show, the only thing I have is being an officiant.

I do place Elvis at the top of the entertainment world. As such, I just am not so sure this is what he would want his name attached to in Vegas. Colonel Tom Parker, however, would be hustling merchandise and finding new ways to profit from such marriages. But then again, it was Parker who torpedoed Elvis’ musical career in the 1960s to make a seemingly endless stream of sub-par movies–simply because they always made money.

And so it goes.

Woman Driving Virus Fight: Dr. Rochelle Walensky

One of the new and refreshing voices to lead the nation over the past weeks has been Dr. Rochelle Walensky. If for no other reason she is to be applauded for echoing the majority reflection of sentiments expressed across the nation about science.

She cries as she gets the vaccine. “It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., murmurs as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital pierces her deltoid with a needle. “Usually it takes 10 to 15 years. The fact that we have it in one.…” Walensky shakes her head in wonder.

Yay for science,” the nurse says.

“Yay for science,” Walensky agrees.

Walensky had been chief of infectious diseases at Mass General but now is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the nation continues to find the resolve to continue the medically prescribed protocols for safety during the pandemic, and also look for the light at the end of the tunnel with mass vaccinations, we are guided by someone who is not only steeped in medical data and expertise but says the things so long neglected in the past four years from Washington.

“Yay for science”.

There were many reasons to applaud the intellects and serious-minded professionals from all points of the compass who have come together to form the administration of President Biden. With Walensky the nation is watching daily as a gifted infectious diseases physician and a proven leader in helping shape the needs of public health provides information and does so in an evidence-based manner.

During the “the other guy’s” term at the White House the tossing aside of science and facts was done so often and in such bizarre ways that it was best to just look away. Now there is no need to hide facts, or spin them so as not to upset a man-child in the Oval Office. Leaders and experts can again do their job in Washington.

The March edition of Vogue features an article about Walensky. The reason she struck me at the time of her appointment was due to what I had read about her ability to help shape opinions concerning health issues as evidenced by her work with HIV/AIDS. Now those same assets will be required in allowing certain people to understand the value of getting the vaccine.

One of the challenges she will face at the CDC is persuading vaccine-reluctant people to get the shot. Does this hesitancy frustrate you? I ask. “I don’t think it matters if it frustrates me,” she answers. “We need to understand the ‘why’ behind the hesitancy. In medical school we were taught to stay quiet after giving someone a new HIV diagnosis. It’s a painful, awful pause, but you need it so you can learn what they’re thinking. That diagnosis means different things to different people. Maybe they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to die?’ or ‘Is my kid infected?’ ‘Will I lose my job?’ Until you know what the diagnosis means for that person, you can’t address the next question. I think it’s similar with vaccine hesitancy. Are you worried about the side effects? Is it because you have no place to leave your kid while you get vaccinated? Are you worried about the science? We can’t address the noes until we understand them.”

During the past four years we were embarrassed by Donald Trump’s picks of people (such as Scott Atlas) who denigrated science, went out of their way to promote anti-scientific ideas, and inserted themselves into the policy apparatus for the sole purpose of undermining and interfering with science. Now that has been reversed with many bright and energized professionals who are worthy of our attention. Leading the COVID team is this woman who I am confident will not only fight COVID successfully, but also help restore faith in governing. That offshoot of Walensky’s fight to reverse COVID is also one needing to be fought.

I am strongly suspecting she wins on both points in the months to come.

What Would Wisconsin’s Senator William Proxmire Do About Recent Chinese Genocide?

There are times when taking a look in the rearview mirror allows for progress moving forward.

There are divided opinions about how to deal with China on a wide array of cumbersome issues ranging from trade to military maneuvers in the South China Sea. But the weighty concern of how to deal with the charge of that nation’s recent genocide on the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province is the one the Biden Administration will first need to engage itself. Putting it more bluntly, how can our nation work with China on any other issue when the term genocide has been leveled against them?

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the declaration of genocide on the last day of his time in office. Many watchers of international events asked only, “What took so long?” But in the same breath, we acknowledged the lack of commitment from the Trump administration for a clear policy on human rights throughout that term.

The Biden White House has not altered the directness of that charge, namely because the facts point to China’s role in genocide. The current Secretary Anthony Blinken has expressed the same use of the term. “My judgment remains that genocide was committed against – against the Uighurs and that – that hasn’t changed,” Blinken said.

But now how does the United States follow through with this matter concerning China?

When I was in high school there was no missing where my history teacher landed when it came to genocide, or how she viewed Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire who served from 1957 to 1989. She had left Holland as a result of WWII and told her students not only about the rough seas that brought her to the United States but also about the brutal nature of war and tyranny that had ravaged Europe. She spoke very highly of our senator who championed the international genocide convention.

She made sure we were aware that Proxmire delivered speeches starting in 1967 in support of the treaty every day that the Senate was in session. As noted in the photo at the top of this article he even spoke on this topic during “pro-forma” meetings. By the time he had made more than 3,000 speeches (!) for its passage 19 years had elapsed. The turtle pacing in the chamber was due to concerns that American sovereignty might be undermined if passed. In the late 1980’s, however, the senate finally saw at least some diluted light and passed what was largely a symbolic measure, severely limiting the application of the treaty. Senator Proxmire spoke sincere and passionate words that day of passage. (I was not able to find a way to place the video itself on this site independent of the link.)

Since the first time in January 1967 that Proxmire took to the Senate floor and correctly urged passage of the treaty, there has been a long and brutal list of tyrants and dictators who have cared not about the human rights of their fellow citizens or wished to pay heed to the genocide convention. Below is a current listing from a 2021 edition of The Economist.

We have all been dismayed with the lack of power and determination to hold tyrants accountable in too many cases where mass crimes were committed. Too often we have read the news accounts where powerful countries such as China and Russia have actually undermined the process of justice. So then how does the rest of the world proceed?

One way to ensure justice is served is with universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction is the ability of the domestic judicial systems of a state to investigate and prosecute certain crimes, even if they were not committed on its territory, by one of its nationals, or against one of its nationals

A prime example of what this looks like in application is with the murderous former president of Chile Augusto Pinochet. He was arrested in Britain at the request of a Spanish judge.  He died in 2006 without having been convicted.  But the entire world was given a powerful lesson in how the legal community could deal with gross violations of human rights. This process serves a role when the territorial state is unable or unwilling to conduct an effective investigation and trial.

While I never had the chance to meet Proxmire, or more importantly converse with him, I believe he can be best known for his continued push for passage of the treaty. That steely determination speaks to his core values that can then lead us to align his thinking to current events. Thus, there is no doubt Proxmire would concur with this process of universal jurisdiction as a complementary step to his decades-long mission.

When it comes to the Chinese policy of genocide against the Uyghurs there must be no wiggle room as it is essential to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses. Tying our trade policy to the human rights component of international affairs is a must. One reason is the ample proof from studies and data to show that, as an example, the majority of Xinjiang’s cotton revolves around this ethnic minority group being severely misused for state gain.

Proxmire would surely argue that our entire interaction with China should be overlaid with concerns about their acts of genocide. Whether our nation engages China on climate control or man-made islands it must be clear that stopping genocide and holding those accountable are always hanging over the table of those assembled to talk. Putting this into a concrete example John Kerry, the special envoy for climate change, was spot-on when making it clear that the United States would not trade other US interests to make progress on climate policy with China.

The issues that confront the world have morphed and become more complex since the days when Proxmire made those daily speeches about genocide. But the moral call concerning our duty to stop such behavior and hold accountable those who unleash such horror has not changed one iota.

Future Of GOP Also Important To National Policy-Making

Politicos are having a fine drama to watch unfold during these days as the pandemic continues and winter weather keeps us mainly indoors. The factions and fissures in the Republican Party have erupted into deeply personal attacks and while they are amusing to watch from this side of the aisle, we also need to be cognizant that a strong two-party system does make our nation stronger.

Donald Trump hijacked the party in 2015 and when elected in 2016 drove it further and further into chaos, bedlam, and even into dangerous conspiracy theories. From a policy perspective be it trade, budgets, or alliances, Trump separated the party from their long-held conservative principles. Today the party is not sure what they represent or who they have as a leader. Are they now just the Trump Party and resigned to mockery while following a delusional cult-like personality? Or can they ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and make something of themselves again?

What makes for amused watching of the great divide in the former Grand Old Party is that Trump wishes to use the political apparatus to seek revenge on those who ‘did him wrong’ in the closing months of his embarrassing term in office. He wishes to enlist candidates to run in 2022 and support them based on the personal feelings he has about how they treated him. Forget about the policy positions of the party! But why would Trump worry about that now? He in large part did not care about mere policy for the last four years.

The question that begs for an answer is how can that party advance when they have the dead weight of Trump holding them down? How can they be tethered to an undignified personality and hope to sway suburban voters?

We have watched for many years as the Republican Party divorced itself from science, threw facts aside, and placed objective reality alongside the tarnished international alliances. They instead lurched to the base instincts of their tribe and hugged even tighter to their resentments and harsh brand of religion. All this would be nothing more than a riveting on-going drama if not so badly timed for the future of the nation.

There are a series of enormous pressing issues in our nation that must be dealt with in imaginative ways along with a bipartisan fashion. Such as with climate change which demonstrated itself in devastating style in Texas this month. We need to again reclaim the awareness that with great power, as this nation has, also comes great responsibility. Promoting democracy in the face of a robust outward-looking China, and Russia which still can not yet define its future, means we need to be more statesmanlike on the world stage. That can only be achieved if we have both parties speaking and leading from mature and reasoned foundations.

The GOP at the grass-roots level who love the Trump bombast and chaos, as it either mirrors their lives or deflects from it, must be steered towards a more logical shore. The party needs it, and the nation requires it. But the only way to achieve it is to sideline and marginalize Trump.

History will record the wisdom of such a move and recall those who had the resolve to make it happen.

Letter From Home “The Dryer Is Empty!” 2/23/21

The past year was the most challenging of our lifetime. I can attest that at this home we were very pleased, due to the pandemic and harsh politics, to turn the calendar and start 2021. But then came January 6th which was dreadful.  The bitter cold seemed unforgiving with its duration. The pacing of the vaccines has caused consternation. While I am an optimistic person by nature it is not difficult to understand why there are times when I need to reach out for the things in life which make for a lifting of the spirit.

The other day in the midst of just random routine household tasks James shouted, “The dryer is empty!” I ran to the place where it seemed someone had absconded with our clothes to find my better half smiling as he placed the wet clothes from the washer into the other machine. “I can not recall the last time the washer was to be emptied and the dryer was not full.”

And we laughed.

That night James made the account his daily written record for something positive and amusing. Since January 1st he has used a Smithsonian Engagement Calendar to put in writing a daily uplifting moment that occurred in our lives.  The written summary now includes such nuggets as an eagle sitting serenely in a neighbor’s tree, a 10 month-old who climbed up on a low-rising rock wall on our property while looking like King of his world, or how we opened a door and the bitter cold air turned our indoor air to steam as it drifted outside…which made opening and closing the door a few more times essential! 

The point of this daily written exercise is to take notice of the small things in life that do go according to plan, or the events that just materialize in front of our eyes and create smiles. With the pandemic still in stride across the nation, there will doubtless be times when looking back on past entries will be required to put a bit of a lift in our steps.

Each day there are myriad examples of worthy moments on which to reflect and smile. Today, the first outside enjoyment of a cup of coffee for 2021 occurred as the temperature reached 50 degrees on our balcony. I had removed large chunks of snow that were compacted there only yesterday and the dropping of them over the edge was cathartic as they crashed and obliterated upon impact. Overnight the melting and drying continued to the point that James sat with his tea, while I drank java as the sun warmed us. The outdoor season has started!

Two weeks ago as the sun was setting and the sky was pinkish-orange I looked out towards the State Capitol. I had looked that way countless times from our top floor but it was only that day when I stopped and just stared as the fading light of day was visible through the windows at the top of the dome. For me, it was an impressive sight. And I just enjoyed it as the light dimmed and ebbed away.

As we move through this year the national and state headlines of the day will be daunting at times. On a personal level, the urge to get back to what was our routines prior to the virus will surely increase as the sun climbs higher in the sky. But it is our determination to see those little moments that exist every day around us and take note of them. We may not have the same outings and social gatherings of the kind we engaged in two years ago but we plan to have as many smiles and reasons to laugh.

And so it goes.